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Local pediatricians seeing an early surge in flu cases around Charlotte

A magnified flu virus
Arek Socha

It’s still early in this year’s flu season, but doctors warn that kids are being hit hard around the Charlotte region. And the surge in flu cases comes as hospitals are also dealing with pediatric RSV, another respiratory virus, and COVID-19.

Atrium Health physician Dr. Rhonda Patt says unvaccinated kids are showing up with high fevers, headaches and digestive problems. 

"We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases of flu in the past two weeks, particularly in school-aged children," said Patt, who is medical director of Atrium Health Levine Children's Charlotte pediatrics. "We haven't seen as much flu yet in the younger children, but we do expect with community spread we'll see more of that."

"The unvaccinated patients, they're having very high fevers, sometimes 103, 104," said Patt.

Patt didn’t have exact numbers but noted that many schools are seeing an increase in absences. Six Anson County schools shifted to remote learning Thursday because of a high number of respiratory illnesses.

"A lot of the kids that are coming in are saying 'We had 10 kids out in my class today,'" said Patt.

So far this year, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says one child in the state has died of the flu. Most deaths are still concentrated among older adults: State data shows four people between 50-64 and eight people older than 65 have died in North Carolina of the flu this season.

The number of test-confirmed flu cases has been growing. NCDHHS statistics show almost 3,000 cases reported by hospitals in the week starting Nov. 5, up from almost 2,400 the previous week.

Patt says parents should get their kids vaccinated, and take them to the doctor if they suspect the flu and kids are younger than two, or if they won’t eat or drink or appear to be having trouble breathing.

Hospitals are also seeing a jump in cases of pediatric respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Another respiratory illness, RSV typically causes mild cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose and cough, but it can make young children very sick.

Last week, local health officials said they're seeing more children hospitalized with RSV than is typical for this time of year.

Between 80% and 85% of children hospitalized across Novant Health were there with RSV last week, according to Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease physician. Priest said at the time that he expects the number of RSV cases to continue growing, at least in the short term.

“What I anticipate is … we’re going to have this big peak of RSV and flu over the next few weeks,” Priest said.

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Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.
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